Friday 12 December 2014

December Newsletter

ECLCM are very aware that there are a number of surveys floating around for young people to complete to collect even more data about their experience. We are aware of three; all from different agencies. We already have extensive data. We have already have extensive research. We know what the outcomes for young people in and leaving care are and have been since data collection began. We work hard at working together with all the many organisations that there are, but our message is clear.

Young people need urgent help now. One year on since ECLCM started the campaign, the outcomes for many care leavers are the same. Vulnerable young care leavers will die while surveys are being constructed whose findings will be ignored by Governments. We know that young care leavers will die and certainly will suffer, because between us we have 100's of years of personal and professional experience and we have seen it with our own eyes. Surveys for young people to complete, who are coping with the stressful realities of meeting their basic needs while managing their own trauma, do not need to be patronised by ticking boxes on a form collecting yet more information that has no guarantee of ever being acted on. 

Can we get 10,000 signatures by Christmas?

Please join us in our mission to extend Staying Put to ALL young people by sharing the petition, writing to your MP, talking to your friends and family about it, raising awareness. On last week'sChannel 4 News debate we heard a young woman describe being placed in 30 placements in 3 months. It was said that this was 'completely unacceptable.' This is so far beyond 'completely unacceptable' that what should have been said on live TV was that this is an utter disgrace!

There was also some good news last week,The Tope Project won the Children & Young People Now awards for care leavers. Congratulations from the ECLCM team for this well-deserved recognition of the work they do. The Topé Project is named after a 23-year-old care leaver who took his own life in 2010. In memory of Topé, this Christmas Day will see 70 young people spending the day socialising, playing games, eating Christmas Dinner and sharing their pain while promoting positivity.

The magic of the Topé Project is spreading across the country. There is the Manchester Christmas Dinner #TCD2014 and the Hackney Christmas Dinner #HCD2014 organised by Lemn Sissay, both creating a wonderful Christmas day for 140 care leavers. If you are a care leaver either in Manchester or London without a Christmas dinner, get in touch.
Contact your local MPs and ask them to put, ‘Staying Put’ on the political agenda. The more people that write, the more likely we will get heard. You can find your local MP here.

On our own, we're good, but together we're amazing!

Thank you and seasons greetings, from the ECLCM team,
Ed Nixon, Rosie Canning, Danielle McLaughlin, Ben Ashcroft, Ian Dickson, Lisa Cherry, Mary Campbell-Wharam, Sarah Sturmey, Rose Devereux, Philomena Harrison, Sarah Jury and Ivor Frank.

Monday 1 December 2014

What Progress on Justice for Care Leavers?

Are care leavers just more criminal? You might think so when you see them over-represented, year after year, in the criminal justice statistics. Would it be fair to think like this? Of course not! In reality, the situation is far from straightforward. This is certainly evident from current concerns (such as those raised by the House of Commons Justice Committee) over the unnecessary criminalisation of children in care for minor offences, their treatment in the youth justice system and their effective abandonment by local authorities as care leavers in the criminal justice system.

Last month the government’s progress report on the cross-departmental ‘Care Leaver Strategy’ was published to coincide with National Care Leavers’ week. The document provides a progress report on the original strategy which was first published last year. The very publication of such a strategy highlights that there is now some recognition in policy spheres that a more joined-up commitment to care leaver issues is required. In my view, this is absolutely crucial for care leavers who come into conflict with the law. However, it is questionable whether much more than lip service is being paid to the key issues by the policy makers who claim to be addressing the needs of care leavers in the criminal justice system. Interestingly, the ‘Youth Justice’ section in the one-year progress report is noticeably one of the shortest sections of the document at not much more than half a page.

In fact, the longest sections in the government’s progress report are devoted to areas like education and employment. These are perhaps more comfortable topics for ministers to get to grips with, unlike the area of ‘justice’ where the boundaries between ‘victims’ and ‘villains’ become murky and blurred when care leavers are discussed. Whilst it has long been established that there are a disproportionate number of young people who have been in care in prison, what is often neglected is the official statistics that highlight that 62% of children and young people enter care because of abuse or neglect – and a mere 2% because of their own behaviour. What does this say about the state in its role as corporate parent?

Appendix A in the progress report outlines how various government departments have supposedly met or are meeting their targets from one year ago. In relation to the commitments of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), these included appointing a National Care Leaver Champion which has been done, with the post being occupied by the Governor of HMP/YOI Swinfen Hall. A further MoJ commitment is as follows:

“MoJ will develop clear ways of identifying care leavers in adult services both in custody and the community so we can better ensure they receive the right support...It will be coupled with guidance for practitioners who are completing assessment tools so that they understand better who qualifies for care leaver status”.

According to Appendix A, this commitment has been “met”, with guidance published by NOMS (2013) issued to staff in probation and prisons on ways of identifying care leavers. However, whilst the very publication of such guidance is a step forward, it is disappointing that the very first sentence notes that this guidance imposes no new requirements (emphasis in the original). This is certainly not a ringing endorsement for busy, often over-stretched practitioners to sit down and read it. The guidance may well have been produced and disseminated as the care leaver strategy progress report outlines, but the crucial question is has it actually been read, let alone changed ways of working?
To suggest that there are now clear ways of identifying adult care leavers in all parts of the criminal justice system, as indicated in Appendix A, is at best misleading and at worst simply not true. This was a sentiment echoed by a number of practitioners at a recent multi-agency stakeholder event in Lancashire on care leavers, looked after children and the criminal justice system.

Furthermore, my research with Patrick Williams of Manchester Metropolitan University on a pilot programme for care leavers on an intensive community order, and our recently published report for The Care Leavers’ Association shows that the issues are really not that simple. Some of the practitioners we spoke with disclosed a lack of knowledge and understanding about care leaver issues, as well as a fear of raising ‘care issues’ with young people – often because of genuine concerns over labelling and stigma. As one key stakeholder astutely observed in relation to the woeful neglect of care leavers in the criminal justice system:

“It’s not been high priority or any priority sometimes when it comes to policy and direction and instruction and even assessment systems. It’s kind of like one of the things that’s ignored. Who knows properly why? I think some of it is they thought it wasn’t that important when actually it’s incredibly important. I think some of it is possibly concern about how to do it. When do you ask? Are they going to want to say? Should you be asking? Is it personal? How do you record it?...I think there’s some genuine concern about labelling...”.

It is clear that the issues raised above are not peculiar to our research site, but how can they begin to be addressed? As we argue in our report, specialist support is required that goes beyond more generic family-focused projects. The practitioners and care leavers that we interviewed both emphasised the value of a user-led intervention – delivered by those who have had experience of the care and criminal justice systems – and who had specialist knowledge about the support that individuals might be entitled to under the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000.

A second multi-agency roundtable discussion on some of these very issues will take place in Lancashire next spring which will be organised in collaboration with The Care Leavers’ Association. The event is supported by the Lancaster University FASS Enterprise Centre and aims to give practitioners from the North West and beyond a chance to grapple with some of the challenges their organisations may face with supporting care leavers in the criminal justice system. A further objective is to identify potential solutions and action points to take forwards, building on some of the good practice that already occurs.

Whilst not wishing to undermine the good practice that does exist, and can be found, in various pockets of the country, the simple truth is that, in spite of the official rhetoric that creates an illusion of targets met, not nearly enough progress has been made centrally in relation to providing sustainable and consistent support to care leavers in the criminal justice system. Far more political will and strategic will is required for this to happen – in the UK as well as in other jurisdictions. Care leavers deserve better than this.

Dr Claire Fitzpatrick (@CJJFitzpatrick) is Lecturer in Criminology in the Lancaster University Law School and has a long-standing research interest in children in care and care-leavers in the criminal justice system. She has written widely on this topic including the book ‘Young People in Care and Criminal Behaviour’ (2006). Her recent working paper on ‘Achieving justice for children in care and care leavers’ (2014) has been published as part of the Howard League for Penal Reform’s ‘What is Justice? series.

This blog post was originally published by the Lancaster University Law School. The views presented are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of either the Law School or the University.

Friday 21 November 2014

Are politicians really in touch with what life is like for care leavers?

This week I exchanged opinions on social media with a well-known Member of Parliament with a special interest in looked after children. It’s not important to say which MP because his views appear to be widely held by many national politicians. Like many politicians, the MP was keen to impress upon me what great developments and improvements had been introduced for young people leaving care in recent years, and how much better things now were.

I was reminded by this conversation of those who say that we ought to be more positive and celebrate how well some care leavers have done, how more get to university than did a generation ago, how aftercare has improved, the Care Leavers’ Charter, Children in Care Councils, and so on. I hear what they say, but then I look once more at the statistics which show starkly how care leavers remain over represented in all the disadvantage groups for young people. That being so, how can anyone claim things are better?

In contrast, I also spent time this week with a group of young care leavers. I guess they were aged between 18 and 22. The members of this group had a wide range of care experience; foster care, residential care, supported lodgings, and even custody.  I met with them at a group run by a small charity dedicated to supporting young care leavers.  It was obvious that they relied heavily on the support they received from the dedicated workers from that charity, and I realised how they would struggle if that support wasn’t available... but I digress.

I struggle to celebrate the alleged improvement in the lives of care leavers because I think much of it is illusory, an impression strengthened every time I meet with young care leavers as I did this week. Of course there were great initiatives (often initiated by young people from care and care leavers) that are trumpeted widely by politicians to show how well they have done. 

I think back to the ‘A National Voice’ bin bag campaign some years ago, and lots of local authorities signing up to declare that young people in care would never have to move from home to home with their possessions in plastic bin bags.  The young care leavers I spoke with this week told me that many of them still did not have suitcases, and they had relied on bin bags as so many care leavers did before them. Some were provided with suitcases or ruck sacks by the hard working charity. Little change there then!

Then there was the ‘Care Leavers’ Charter’. Once again, local authorities queued to sign it and declare how well they would support children and young people leaving care. Again, politicians were quick to cite this as a major development for care leavers.  It was obvious talking to the young care leavers I met that the Charter was not being implemented ‘at the sharp end’.  In spite of requests, the government was very clear that they would not make the Charter mandatory or offer increased funding to enable local authorities to implement it. So, we have another initiative that looks great on paper and politicians’ speeches, but is often simply ignored where it matters most – in the lives of care leavers.

The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 was a piece of child care policy that was made law, and should have improved the lives of care leavers immeasurably. Pathway plans, consultation and participation, ongoing support and assistance with education, accommodation etc.  Was this this the support that we care leavers had campaigned for for generations? Sadly no, because it was simply not implemented in full and hidebound by mind boggling restrictions and definitions…. Young people might be eligible, relevant, former relevant … what’s all that about? Surely being a care leaver in need of real support from the corporate parent should be enough?  - But no.

Then we had ‘Staying Put’, loudly celebrated by many as a major breakthrough in child care policy to meet the needs of care leavers. Now care leavers might stay on with their carers until they were 21 and would no longer be compelled to leave home at 16+ and fend for themselves (something  that the children of politicians and decision makers would never be forced to do).

Whilst some celebrated, many including the ‘Every Child Leaving Care Matters’ (ECLCM)  team, realised this initiative excluded 9% of all young people leaving care, including all those in residential children’s homes.  Not only had the needs of care leavers not been met, a completely new element of discrimination had been introduced into service provision.  Discriminatory practice will never be acceptable and ECLCM will continue to oppose it until all care leavers receive the same full ‘Staying Put’ support.

Even so, we were led to believe, young people leaving foster care would now be able to ‘stay put’ until 21 in their foster placements?  Apparently not it seems.  It seems to depend upon where the young person is living and who they are placed with whether they are able to remain with their foster carers until they are 21. They kept quiet about that bit.

I listened to the young care leavers I met this week. One spoke of living in a foster home from being 6 years old, and when they were 16 being told they would need to leave and go into supported lodgings. They were made to move against their will. The young person said that they were exploited and abused in their supported placement, and their foster carer was so horrified they demanded the young person be allowed to return to live with them.  That rang a bell with me - a carer sticking their neck out and representing and supporting a child when the corporate parent failed to do so. But if carers cannot or aren’t prepared to do this – what then? It reinforced the centrality of positive long term caring relationships in good care, and the lottery that is care. That was the same when I left care 47 years ago.

The young people spoke of constantly changing social workers, of not being made to feel  welcome when they had to visit ‘Social Services’, of having decisions made for them rather than with them, and of having information about them shared with teachers and others without their consent. It all sounded depressingly familiar. Two young people who had been in custody whilst still in care spoke of being refused housing support when they came out.  That was supposed to have changed long ago. This all sounded much the same as leaving care has for years.

There appears to be a significant ‘disconnect’ between politicians and decision makers and those at the bottom end of the chain who depend upon the corporate parent. In spite of the rhetoric of some MPs, Life for too many care leavers has not improved greatly from that we experienced generations ago.  Care leavers don’t need surveys, more research or political rhetoric. They want practical help, stability, security,  support,  people who care, a safe place to live, prospects and reasons to hope…Do you still wonder why the ECLCM team campaign?

Sunday 16 November 2014

A letter from ECLCM to Ed Miliband

Dear Mr Miliband (or May I call you Ed?)

I really do appreciate the fact that it must be incredibly hard to lead a political party that is seeking to win the next General Election – particularly when you seem to have so many people sitting in ‘the wings’ merely waiting for you to make a less than perfect decision or say something that might be scurrilously misinterpreted by the media.  I am a social worker and I have lived with this type of pressure for the last 40 years – less publicly certainly but perhaps on even more critical issues than at times you find yourself talking about.

You probably don’t even know that I have written to you a couple of times and even – despite my rather aged fear of social media – tweeted to you? I feel sure that given the pressure under which you work there are other people who deal with your correspondence and as such I wonder if perhaps this open letter might find it’s way into your busy schedule rather more effectively than my previously and self evidently poor attempts to engage you. Please don’t feel that I am targeting you for special attention or criticism – I have written and tweeted to many of your Shadow Cabinet colleagues too and haven’t heard from them either.

I need to say that I listened to your speech this week and I thought it sounded rather splendid. I agreed with so much of what you said about inequality in our society; how those who appear to need help most do at times seem to be the ones who struggle to get it and how we seem at times to be a society in which the chasm between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ appears to be growing faster than the polar ice sheets are shrinking. Bravo!

I would though like to mention a group in our society who my friends (or should I say like minded individuals in relation to the group I am referring to? Luckily I seem to have well over 8000 who have formally declared their allegiance) and I feel you really could do with thinking about.
This group are comprised of children and those approaching adulthood - well, in chronological terms anyway – they have all had really bad starts in life and have been brought up through at least some of their childhood by you, me and the rest of our society, their Corporate Parents. ‘My group’ are children in residential care. Great kids, wonderful individuals who now and for the last two or three generations have been disadvantaged by our society.

Regardless of how busy you must be I am certain that you have been aware of the discussions around ‘staying put’. You may well not have heard about Every Child Leaving Care Matters but that’s OK. Last December the Government announced that children in foster care would be able to have the option to stay with their foster carers  until they were twenty-one years of age – Great news we all thought and waited for the rest of the announcement which would surely ( we wrongly thought) extend that option to kids in residential care. It didn’t come, it still hasn’t come. What do you think about that Mr M? We know many of your colleagues in Labour's parliamentary group are shocked, disappointed or horrified at this inequality as they have told us so, though it might be considered invidious if we were to name them. We would, however, ask that if you do win that General Election in May 2015 and are looking to fill your Cabinet that you look toward Mr Bill Esterson as someone who seems to understand more than most about children’s social care.

We have only one request to put to you. Will you please say that you support the recommendations of the Education Select Committee ‘Into independence, not out of care: 16 plus care options’ and specifically that the option for ‘staying put’ in their placement should be available to all children not just those in foster placements.

Obviously I could go on and there is so much more I would like to tell you about children in care but I realise that you are busy. If you do want to learn a little more about children in care I know many such children and adults who have survived or worked with Care survivors who would be delighted to talk to you.

If you could just take 30 seconds to do as I ask I would be grateful to and respect you.

Best wishes

Ed Nixon

On behalf of the ECLCM Campaign

Sunday 2 November 2014

The View of a Residential Child Care Worker

When I tell people I'm an Residential Child Care Worker, there are certain questions I can almost guarantee what I'll get asked.

'So. What is an RCW?'
'Well, it's like the kids TV program Tracy Beaker but not really.'
'Oh ok!'

Actually it's nothing like Tracy Beaker but that might just be the closest they are ever going to get to understanding without actually working in a childrens home.

When I first applied to work in a residential childrens home, I had no idea they even existed. I thought they where huge 40 bedded homes that only existed in horror movies or old black and white photographs. Little did I know.

'So are they like disabled or naughty?'

This is a tough one so the easiest answer is sometimes - yes some have disabilities but not always and yes some can be naughty, but not always. Naughty to me is when someone jumps out from around a corner and shouts BOO! Which happens. A lot.

'It must be such a hard job, I couldn't do it.'
Maybe you could, maybe you couldnt. I was once told that residential carers have the shortest shelf life. I'm not sure about that. I know people who have been there for 15 years, and I know people who have been there a few months.

'What do you do with them?'
What I certainly don't do is 'fix' these young people. But what I do do, is, as part of a team, try to help them in their every day lives. Helping them learn the tools they will need to survive in this scary world. But that's sometimes hard when you have less then a few months to do it in.

That's why, when at 16, 17, or 18, it is ridiculously tough to watch them go off into the world. The big bad scary world where they are 'too young' even to hold a tenancy agreement. Which makes no sense. Not equipped socially to say No to the so called friends that ARE going to take advantage of their situations. Not able to stay at college because they can't afford the bus, new clothes, or a backpack to carry their books in. Not able to apply for jobs because they can't afford the Internet or a Laptop to apply, or even a newspaper. They go from 24 hour support to nothing. Zero. Sounds unbelievable and people say surely there's something. In cities there a very few charities that might be able to help. In the middle of nowhere for example, the deep dark depths of Devon? Not so much.

Outreach support does exist but it's down to 'funding'. Not every young person knows what they are legally entitled to when they leave care, and what funding is strictly to be used for. I once got told that a young person had to pay for their moving van out of their leaving care grant. That money is strictly for setting up your home, not moving to your home!

Most of these things are out of an RCW's control. Sometimes the best you can do is let go, let them move on, remind them how far they have come and to keep in touch. A quick hug or hand shake and wipe away the tears before they see. What is in our control is making the transaction as smooth as possible: visits, a leaving party, cards with messages, gifts and scrap books full of happy times and good, positive memories. Tokens they can keep and look back on. I might not be able to help the ones who have already moved on, but hopefully by helping support ECLCM I can somehow go on to help the next one, and the next one.

Sarah Jury

Thursday 30 October 2014

Ben reflects on the government's refusal to implement the 16 plus care options from the Education Select Committee

Today I awoke feeling very indifferent and in a slight mood over failure of the government to accept the “16 plus care options” recommendations of the Education Select Committee.

I reflected on my own experience over the last 10 months, and particularly my efforts as part of ECLCM to gain equal rights for ALL young people leaving care to have equal after care support, the same as their peers and siblings are offered in foster care.

It seems to me as though this government don't really have an appetite or don't really care about every child leaving care.  I find this shameful and disappointing, that in 2014 we at ECLCM have to campaign for something that should be standard in our society -"Equality". How can we offer support to one group of young people and not the other? I have had young people ask me personally what makes them different. They are understandably angry and shocked at the different options available to fostered young people. Can we blame them? No!

It feels to me like young people leaving a residential children’s home are not being treated fairly at all. All young people need support regardless of where they live.

I thought we lived in a society where we were all equal, all people. Discrimination is not accepted in any other form and rightly so. But it seems that if we are talking about children and young people who are leaving residential care, it is OK. That is blatant discrimination - but no public outcry.
As we know and as has been stated before, children and young people who are ‘looked after’ or care leavers aren't vote winners. I understand that. But even still this government should be doing what is morally right.

I have noticed since I started campaigning I have lost some support from charities, organisations and some individual people. That makes me sad because I only ever set out to make a difference. Nobody was speaking out for children leaving children’s homes until ECLCM was formed. Amazingly, we even took abuse from people who have since quietly signed the ECLCM petition.  

If ‘Staying Put’ had not introduced discrimination towards children leaving children’s homes, ECLCM would never have been formed – there would have not been any need. I remember the day that the implementation of ‘Staying Put’ for children leaving foster care was announced. I was in London on a panel with a group of young people. We were questioning some European experts about a European project I was involved in at London University. All the young people with me all happened to live in residential children’s homes and were visibly upset and angry about the new policy. I told them I would do what I could, and as a result we formed ECLCM. ECLCM has been through the wars, but has survived to be an excellent and committed team. We have no sponsors, no funding, no political affiliations, not ties – other than a firm commitment to get justice for all care leavers. We pay our costs out of our own pockets. We do this out of passion, not for money.
It was ECLCM that initiated the conversation about injustice to young people leaving care and the discriminatory nature of ‘Staying Put’ as it was to be implemented.  Amazing as it seemed to us then and now, others appeared to be happy to do nothing. We have been involved in lots of discussions, meetings and ‘round table’ events. Even so, we never seem to get a mention. As a colleague said ‘ECLCM is invisible’.

As far as we are concerned, others can have the credit and funding for pilots and research that we believe doesn't need doing.  We worry that ‘research’ and ‘pilots’ are simply means of kicking the issue of equal aftercare rights for all young people leaving care  into the long grass so it does not get addressed, and the government does not have to pay for it.  Cynical? Perhaps, but the last 10 months have made me that way. All ECLCM want is equality of support - not funding or credit. Acknowledging our efforts and contribution would be nice for the team and the consistent and resilient work they do with little appreciation, but we can live without it.
One wonderful reward we have already had for our efforts is the right to look ALL care in the eye, knowing that we did our best for them – and knowing that they know it too. A priceless reward which not everyone can claim.

I may have made mistakes and my passion has sometimes run away with me on this journey, but at least I'm trying, as are my friends in the ECLCM team and our supporters.
After nearly a year in to my first ever campaign I'm a year older, wiser and much more aware of the things that actually go on behind the scenes.

These are just my personal thoughts at a very disappointing time for care leavers following the rejection by the government of the Select Committee recommendations in the lead up to NCLW2014. How brilliant it would have been to announce some real change and offer hope to thousands of young people in time for NCLW2014!

After one of the best pieces of work the Select Committee have done I find it simply ridiculous that this government want more research. To me it just shows this government don't care about every child leaving care. Not like us and thousands of others who believe and know ‘Every Child Leaving Care Matters’.

Ben Ashcroft

Wednesday 22 October 2014

My thoughts and feelings - How I perceive the general public attitude towards ‘looked after children’.

As a young person, I grew up in the care of the local authority. During my six years in care, I had a total of 37 moves to different placements including foster homes and residential children’s homes. As a result, I lived next to many neighbours and people. In that time – enough to gain an impression about what they think of kids who live in care.

I may of course be wrong. These are purely my own thoughts and feelings on this matter. I suspect my view will be shared by many other care experienced people though.

Some of the neighbours and members of the general public were unkind too us, or just ignored or avoided us young people because they presumed we were all naughty kids. After all, that's why we were in care or lived in a certain place that the public knew to be children’s homes – wasn’t it?  After, we all know that children’s homes and foster homes are places where bad kids are placed. They must be all have been naughty.

I know there wrong, but how wrong are they? I can’t claim to know the statistics related to children and young people being in taken into care for being ‘naughty’ when I was in care, or perhaps I should refer to it as ‘socially unacceptable behaviour’.

More recent research suggests that only 2% of looked after children are taken into care because of socially unacceptable behaviour. I suspect that these statistics haven't changed much over the last decades. The statistics actually show that 62% of children and young people taken into care have been abused or neglected.

Some of our neighbours were empathetic and caring. They welcomed us in to the community and took the time to say ‘hello’ and to have a little chat in passing. It was nice to meet people like that, people who that didn't mind us living amongst them, and who didn’t judge us. These decent people never had any trouble from us kids that I witnessed in my time living next to them.

Other neighbours presented as more the ‘Not the not in my back yard’ lot. They didn’t mind children being in care – as long as they lived somewhere else.

Some neighbours weren't very nice to us, or in fact were outright abusive. Some called us names - Scum! Trouble! The bad kids!

Sometimes we took abuse from local youths, many of whom were out later at night than we were as we had fixed bed times according to our age. Some of these youths were far more feral than we were. They would sing 'Where’s your momma gone?' Far far away!’ intended to offend and insult us - It wasn't nice.

People didn't seem to understand or care about the damage ad trauma some of us ‘care kids’ had been through. As if we didn’t have enough to contend with, to get that kind of abuse from sections of the communities added to our woes. They made it clear that they didn’t want us living next door or in the community.

That is bound to have an effect on young people. I will admit that sometimes we young people would react and do something silly. To these unpleasant neighbours, that simply justified their low opinion of us and their abuse continued. When there was trouble in the neighbourhood, they decided that we were the perpetrators. To them, we were all villains, and all looked after kids were assumed to have convictions. It seemed that other kids who were not from care didn’t get into trouble or get convictions – only us.  

That brings me back to now and the conversations I have had in recent years with many people from all walks of life and professions.

Most of the people I spoke with knew very little to nothing about looked after children and care leavers. Most were happy to listen and learn – but not all. A few people just didn't want to know, or they paid lip service even though they didn’t really accept what I was telling them. To some, it was too threatening to their prejudices and they just chose not to accept what they were being told. It seems to me that there are still some people who seem to live in a bubble and don’t really care about others as long as they are alright.

The people who engaged and listened to me were shocked at some of my stories, experiences and statistics. Many had tears in their eyes. Some cried, both men and women.

I have seen and met so many caring people, and I know that there are millions more in the UK. They just don't know anything or very little other than when a tragic news story appears.

How can we help the public understand more about looked after children and care leavers in their community and nationally?

I'd say the majority of the public are caring but just don't know enough about the realities of the care system.

Let’s give them a crash course. Looked after children are like any other children. They have dreams and aspirations. They want to be accepted and have a great future.

We need to help the general public understand that these kids are often damaged, traumatised, scared and include some of the most vulnerable kids in Society. They are children, not monsters or aliens. They are all people and all equal. They need love and support, not hatred and suspicion.

Ben Ashcroft

Sunday 19 October 2014

Is it a Cold Society?

It was 14 years ago when I left care. It saddens me greatly that the same things that were happening to kids in care then are still happening now. How can this be?

How much research needs to be done before we finally have some ACTION and perhaps new legislation to make everything equal for ALL care leavers. How long until we offer them the support they deserve and need?

When I graduated from an uncaring care system into custody, I had no real support other than a one hour weekly meeting with my Youth offending officer. I had no care leaver services involved with me, not even a single appointment with anyone to see how I was, never mind £2000 and a flat. It was a lottery if kids leaving care got enough help I suspect. Some of my care brothers and sisters were given a flat and a grant of £2000. Even so, they would often be put in a flat in a unsafe place where they were at risk of drugs, crime and exploitation, or else their flats would be overrun with young people, often other  unsupported care leavers, which leads to anti-social behaviour, inevitably followed by eviction and homelessness because they simply were not prepared for independence. They had never been taught the coping skills, were emotionally unready and massively under supported. Looking back, failure for many was probably inevitable under those circumstances.

The rest of us would have to make our own way in life and independence. Some of us failed and were homeless. Some couldn't handle the pain and trauma they had been through and took their own lives. Some died from drug overdoses. I chose to be lonely and isolated, to keep out off drugs and out of crime. I paid a heavy price with my mental health ending up in psychiatric ward and hostel. All of the above probably could have been avoided with the right support and guidance.

I want to dedicate my life to social care, no matter how many hoops I have to jump through to get there. I'm inspired by other care leavers who are achieving and being successful at whatever career they have chosen. I just want to be respected as someone who has given something back and helped ‘Looked After’ children and young care leavers. I just can't sit back and watch ALL this talent and potential being wasted. These young people are often damaged and have had so many traumas in their short lives.

Why do each government in turn think it's OK for these young care leavers to be left to fail?

There has not been any fundamental improvement for all children leaving care since 1948, in spite of the ambition of the Children Acts of 1948 and 1989 and the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000
I think as a Society it's not the case that all the general public don't care about kids in care. I think it's probably more likely that they don't know much about Looked After Children and care leavers.

Is it a cold Society?

How can people in positions to make change for the better of Society’s most vulnerable children sleep at night in their big comfy beds knowing how many care leavers are on the streets outside in this bleak rainy weather; isolated, lonely, scared and probably in need of a hug and some support and guidance.

It's an awful feeling I get: "Am I doing enough?"

Statistics reveal that 62% of looked after children have been abused or neglected. These young people are already suffering a great deal of pain, upset and instability. But still they are being asked to leave care at 16-18 years old. Out of 9,900 young people to leave care 16% were 16 years old; 15% were 17 years old. That's thousands of young people aged less than 18 year of age. Is it any wonder that up to 40% of 18-21 year olds in custody have spent time in care?  69.9% re-offend within a year of release. Expensive and ineffective at best!

It has to be cheaper for the government purse to offer the option of support to ALL care leavers until they are 21 at least, no matter where their address is. It would reduce so many negative statistics and reduce the number of care leavers and possibly in future even reduce the number of children coming into care.  There are so many potential positives, not least amongst them that it would save lives. If we give young people a better chance of making it in the world of independence, the outcomes can only be positive.

Not sure how people can be upset with me for being part of a campaign to make things equal for ALL young people!

Ben Ashcroft

Thursday 16 October 2014

It's Not Rocket Science

Hello! My name is Rosie Canning. I help with the social media side of Every Child Leaving Care Matters campaign.

Until I got involved with ECLCM, I very rarely mentioned that the first 16 years of my life were spent in care. I suppose it was the same old reason: shame; embarrassment; carrying society’s sins on my shoulders. Sometimes though, I feel okay talking about my experiences, usually with other people who’ve been in care. We are linked by our traumatic pasts, cause let’s be honest here, life in care is rarely a bed of roses.

On Tuesday I had a good ‘post care’ experience. I attended the 'Therapeutic Child Care Conference - Hopefulness in a Changing Landscape’, as the guest of Amanda Knowles from the Consortium for Therapeutic Communities.

The conference was fascinating especially as it was all about the right sort of care. One of the speakers, John Diamond from the Mulberry Bush School, spoke about the 'frozen child' which goes right back to Barbara Dockar-Drysdale (1958). The Mulberry Bush School is a residential school for children who have been traumatised. They provide high quality therapeutic care and work with children until they are ready for a foster placement or find them a school that suits them. They help them re-learn stuff like being a child, how to eat a meal properly, boundaries, fun, play etc which is all part of the therapeutic child care model.

The ethics of this therapeutic setting is how it could be for children coming into care...i.e. assessed and kept in a safe haven until they are ready for a foster home or other placement and not the other way around. Hence the reason why so many placements fail; and children end up being failed by the corporate parent.

In my opinion, this government's emphasis on foster care, is wrong. The residential setting is just as valuable and important but as people in the know say, it is used as a last resort. What a waste.

Mark Kerr, PhD student and Assistant Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Kent, gave a very interesting talk at the conference: ‘Reviewing the Needs of Looked After Children: A Challenge to the Rhetoric?’ As part of his PhD, Mark is looking into the outcomes for care leavers who experienced residential care. His main point, and he proved it with oodles of statistics, was that nothing has changed for children in the care system. There is hardly any improvement. It is an absolute bloody shambles. The care system is failing our most vulnerable young people.

Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of Action for Children, said: “Young people who have had traumatic early lives, who struggle with learning disabilities or mental health issues are the ones who need the most care, but the state is turning its back on them.

“It’s ludicrous that teenagers who are still dealing with the legacy of abuse and neglect have to cope with adult responsibilities, like building a stable home, at an age when most of their peers are supported by parents.

“If we don’t rethink care so it acts less like a system and more like a parent then these problems won’t go away.”

Lisa Cherry wasn’t at the conference but she did write a response to Tuesday’s report Too Much Too Young by Action for Children, that states: The emotional needs of children who have been in care are not being well looked after...

Lisa responded by saying: “There comes a point and I guess I have reached it, where we have to say, we have enough research. It is robust. We pretty much know the answers already to what you are going to research. Please can we do something now?”

And of course she is so right, but this is not to take away the importance of the AfC report. We know all the stuff now, about trauma, about what works, about what these vulnerable, traumatised children need to get over their trauma and it's not being moved 65 times. Impossible? No, seriously, this happened and is still happening. And those moves took place over a period of five years. How was that even possible? At least 65 but probably more like 140 people if not more, were involved in rejecting and rejecting this young person.

The right sort of care is so simple, it's cost effective in the LONG term. When a child comes into care they need to be assessed, placed in a safe place, a safe haven. Or a therapeutic setting though unfortunately there are not enough of them. They then need specialist help to overcome the trauma. The trauma of leaving their families, the trauma of being moved; not all children are relieved to be taken away from their parents. The trauma of a new place. Once they have learned to play again, or just sit at a table and eat in a family setting without playing Greek restaurants; then and only then should they go into a foster family setting or be adopted. Everyone in child care knows this. Every child that has left care knows this. Yet it ain’t happening.

I remember being moved from a safe place to an unsafe place. I remember being in a constant state of fear. I was four and half years old, I knew very little about the world. Suddenly I was exposed to violence. I never knew when I would be attacked. I tried all the little girl moves that I knew. Nothing worked. At the end of this two year placement I was severely damaged and sent to another place where the abuse was worse. Does this gives you an idea of what a young child sometimes has to endure? Even without the physical, emotional and psychological abuse; let’s say the placement is considerate and caring. The child doesn’t know that, he/she is still in constant fear mode. Can they sleep safely? Will they still be there in the morning? Will something awful happen in the night? What about the other children there? Will they be violent to the child? This really is the tip of the iceberg. And so it takes weeks, months or even years to be able to calm down, to be able to sleep properly, to feel safe.

I still find it hard to sleep; I don’t feel safe even now fifty years later

For goodness sake it is not Rocket Science. Well the neuroscience bit is but we, and this includes the government, have access to the layman’s version.

Think about the child that was moved 65 times in five years. What is that poor child’s brain like?

So how on earth can a child be expected to concentrate on its studies. The brain is in meltdown, it is jumping ship, it is on red alert.

And where is all this leading? The Every Child Leaving Care Matters campaign of course. For goodness sake; if a traumatised young person is in a stable placement in children’s home at 16 or 17; why move them into what is often an unsafe environment, like a B&B or miles away from their school and friends. Let them stay; let them stay until they are 21. Give them a bit of peace in their lives and then see what they can achieve. Give peace a chance!

Saturday 4 October 2014

What should we be asking politicians?

Over the next few months as we move inexorably towards a general election the ECLCM campaign and it’s supporters have an opportunity to speak to politicians who, by and large have been deafeningly silent on the subject of children in care and specifically those leaving care. Children in Care becomes political news only when something goes badly wrong – the discovery of (yet another) disgraceful story of sexual abuse of children by carers; social workers apparently failing to take children into care with catastrophic consequences; social workers taking children into care unnecessarily – all well trodden media paths that are, in fact almost nothing to do with the children they are just news stories with more than a little impetus being given by the perennial tendency to attack the social work profession. Of course some of these stories are true and poor practice must always be exposed and answered for. But what about poor political practice when it comes to children in care? Such has been the failure of central and local government since at least the 1970’s to address the failings of the care system that surely an exposé will appear soon? Well it hasn’t so far and don’t hold your breath.  There has been virtually no improvement in outcomes for UK children in care in those forty something years.

Why should now be any different? Well, in part that depends on you. If you choose to take the opportunity to engage with prospective MP’s and Local Councillors as they canvass your support then you really may be able to make a difference for children in and leaving care.
If you can go to a meeting great or perhaps if someone comes knocking at your door you could ask them some questions which might include the following suggestions:

Do you know how many children in care there are in your constituency/ward?

Do you know how many children there are in care in the UK as a whole?

What will you do for these children?

How will you seek to improve outcomes for children leaving care so that they improve for the first time in 40 years?

Do you believe in equality?

Can you explain why children leaving residential care are not afforded an equal opportunity to stay put (remain in their placements) when children in foster care are?

Have you signed the ECLCM campaign to gain equal rights for children leaving residential care? If not please do so.

We appreciate that the key issues in the forthcoming election will be things like:
The economy – how much better it would be if we didn’t have to pay for so many care leavers to be in prison rather than contributing to the economy?

The NHS – how much money and what resources could be saved if so many care leavers weren’t in adult mental health wards?

Education – How much better would it be if children in care had the same opportunities to go into further education?

This list if not endless could go on for quite some time.

Only politicians can make a difference and you will vote them in or not so it’s you who can make the difference.  Please ensure that they are aware of ECLCM and indeed other vehicles for improving the lives of children in care.

We have relatively few politicians following and fewer still supporting our campaign but if they read this blog then they will have plenty of time to get their answers ready for you!

Alternatively you can write to your MP either by t is easy to find your local MP/local councillors contact details. You can use: which is easy to use and lists local MPs/councillors. All you have to do is enter your poscode. Or if you would prefer to post a letter, you can use our template letter which can be downloaded here.

Tuesday 30 September 2014

What was I running too?

What does independent mean?
Am sure to find out soon
Now that I’ve turned eighteen.
Am somewhat quite excited
Am defo ready to have my voice
A chance to make decisions
But there’s no one to direct my choice?
Am not even really aware you know,
Of any choices I can actually make
What’s gonna happen to me
On this independent road I take

I played my music all night long
I watched the sun come up
I sit and contemplate the day again
Drinking cider from my cup
It’s not what it’s supposed to be
Not what I imagined at all
My independent arrogance wans
Am feeling very, very small
Month by month passes by
Longer spent in drunken bliss
It’s just so god dam lonely
Even the shit staff I miss
More loneliness more alcohol
The next few years are quite a mess
I was a massive drain at A & E
This I must confess
I couldn’t bear the loneliness
Started overdosing on the med
Just enough so they would keep me in
On a ward not my lonely bed.
I found solace in many razors
At one point near lost a leg
“I just don’t know where I’m going no more”
My emotions began to beg
Time and time again I repeated this
My mental health completely shot
Carted off to mental wards
Each time I lost the plot
Back into something familiar
Where people were paid to care
Though this system is debatable!
But there was definitely people there
I yo yo’d back n forth this way,
Hospitals, dry clinics and psychs
I swapped my tipple for new highs
Growing more “resourceful” for my likes
Looking back am somewhat shocked
At the places I have been
Situations…I’d left myself wide open
All that shocked, I have seen
My party pal, my mate Jackie
She gained independence just like me
But her escapes turned to heroin
And she eventually paid the fee.

It’s a funny situation care
We’re a similar kinda lot
I moved around so many times
Long-term friends I haven’t got
I never learned to retain them
I just moved out and made them anew
It’s a pattern that has followed me
Of real friends, I have very few.
Social skills had developed
Within a community so unique
Skills that didn’t fit society
Leaving relationships of mine quite bleak.
Not the healthy happy types
Some erratic, hostile and bad
Most I found we used each other
To obliterate all that sad.
I adopted social expectations
Of the linear line of life
I had two kids, they were MINE
Playing house and am the “wife”
I saw to ensure my chain broke
I would wholly do my best
Motherhood was far from natural
A heavy burden on my chest
They saved me in so many ways
In ways I can’t explain
I found the drive to better myself
They took away the pain.
My two little saviours
With all that innocence, they just give
They lifted my heart and filled it
They gave me tickets to finally live.

I didn’t get an education
In that system I didn’t fare
A very familiar tale for most
Who found themselves in care.
I did get lots of other quals
Life skills that where quite unique
Skills that have saw me survive
In a life that was quite bleak
Resilience and downright resourcefulness
Determined and quite strong
Every so called weak state I lived
Has got me where I belong
Here now, on my new journey
One I have waited for too long
Face the fear and I jumped in
am now where I belong.
I always shouted to the staff
You’re shit and I really do know best
I’ve always said I’ll do their job
Now am putting it to the test.

So Eighteen years later am sitting at a desk
Sitting in a classroom trying my very best
Eighteen years later from the other side I look
Learning the practices, of the roads my life has took.

18 years later,
The systems have not changed
Many young people still leave care
No support and nothing arranged
Struggling unidirectional down pathways
Leading to trouble and negative stats
Losing hope, some opt out
Sitting lonely in their flats.
This cannot be a circle or chain
That continues on and on,
We can change things for future generations
And learn from who’s been and gone.

I as a parent will definitely not
Be choosing between my kids,
Who I will love and support each day
And the other nothing give.

Each of my children are equal
I love them both the same
I will cherish and support them equally
Throughout life’s little game

Each of my children are equal
I want the government shouting out with pride
No matter where they reside.

Danielle McLaughlin